Felted Easter Egg Re-try

A week and a half ago I attempted to make felted Easter eggs with Hannah, and failed. Or at least I wasn’t as successful as I hoped.

But, you see, there’s something you should know about me. I can be a tad, err, obsessive. When something almost works, but not quite, I will beat that dead horse into the ground. This is how I ended up sewing baby carrier after baby carrier until I had achieved Perfection. It’s how I program computers a lot of the time. I know I’m close, and I become relentless and single-minded until I get there.

I do, at least, usually have the good sense to not try the same thing over and over, expecting a different result. I change my approach constantly, tweaking and modifying. I ask people questions and then ignore their answers as I come up with yet another thing to try myself. And, oh yeah, I use a lot of ‘salty’ language. This is why Jon tries to avoid helping me tackle technical problems at all costs. I am maybe not the best or most patient client for him.

Wool for felting
Lovely, lovely wool

Anyways, after my last post about the felted eggs I received a fair bit of encouragement. And then my dear friend Kirsten of Yummy yarn let slip that she had a bag of colourful wool bits that might be perfect for my project. (Her roving is to die for!) And I decided to get back on that horse, because I am nothing if not dedicated to driving myself slowly insane.

The problem with hand felting
The hole that wouldn’t go away

This time I went and bought some plastic Easter eggs first. I tried using more or less the same method I used before – I wrapped bits of wool around the egg, dipped them in hot soapy water, and then massaged them with my fingertips. But it didn’t go that well. I kept getting holes that wouldn’t fill in, and the plastic halves of the egg kept popping apart. Very frustrating.

All packed inside a nylon, ready to go
Two eggs packed inside a nylon

So I changed my approach (after using a few bad words and crying a little). As tightly as I could, I wrapped about 6 layers of wool around a plastic egg, and then stuck the whole thing inside an old nylon. I tied the end off so that it was held together pretty tightly, and then added another egg. You could probably fit six or more eggs inside a single leg, leaving yourself extra at the end to hold on to.

Wet felting
Into the hot, soapy water

I dunked the eggs in wet soapy water and swished them around, holding onto the extra nylon at the end so that I didn’t have to stick my hands into all that heat. Then I removed the eggs, allowed the excess water to drip off, and slowly and gently squeezed each one. Gentleness is key, or else you end up popping the plastic egg apart and the finished product isn’t quite the right shape. I also found it pretty effective to pour boiling water from the kettle over the eggs.

Finished eggs
My finished eggs

After a couple of dozen repetitions, the wool felted nicely. Little fuzzy strands poked through the nylon, and the consistency changed. I could feel that they were holding their shape, the eggs were smaller and firmer. Then I threw the nylon and eggs into a hot dryer for about 20 minutes. After I cut the nylons off (carefully), I had some pretty decent felted eggs.

I will be honest and say that I’m not sure this is actually a great craft for kids. My 4-year-old could help me get the eggs ready to go into the nylon, but that’s about it. The hot water is just too hot, the felting requires too much care, and cutting the eggs out of the nylon without hurting them takes fine motor skills your average preschooler simply doesn’t have. But Hannah likes the finished product, so it all worked out.

Also, I got another tip from my yarny friend Kirsten. If you don’t have plastic eggs, or prefer not to use plastic, it’s pretty easy to make a wool core. Form a rough egg shape using some tightly packed wool, and wrap it with feltable yarn. You don’t need to wrap it completely, just enough to hold its shape. You will end up with a product made entirely of natural materials, and you can save yourself the time of starting from scratch.

Maternity Leave in the United States

It’s Mat Leave Monday! Today I’m talking about maternity leave in the United States – or, more accurately, the lack of maternity leave. As always, I have no first-hand experience with countries outside of Canada. If you are in the US you might want some info straight from the horse’s mouth.

Wikipedia says:

Five countries in the world do not offer some form of paid parental leave – Australia, the United States, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea. However, most employees in Australia are entitled to at least 12 months’ unpaid leave for the primary carer, and new parents are able to receive a Baby Bonus…

(If you’re curious, I wrote about maternity leave in Australia back in January.)

The US stands apart as an industrialized nation that does not guarantee some sort of maternity leave to all employees. Pregnant women and new parents, including adoptive parents, may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA became law in February of 1993. It guarantees eligible employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period, and covers pregnancy and childbirth, as well as caring for a child following birth, adoption, or foster placement.

FMLA also covers employees who are ill or must care for immediate family members under other conditions, it is not solely used as maternity leave. Because of the way this is written, it means that both mothers and fathers can receive FMLA separately, provided they are both eligible. So FMLA can serve as paternity leave as well as maternity leave. After all, fathers are also immediate family members of their new son or daughter.

Who is eligible for coverage under FMLA? You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, and you must have worked at least 1250 hours in the last year (that’s an average of a little more than 24 hours / week). In addition, your employer must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. So, if you work 20 hours / week for a small business, you are not entitled to any leave under FMLA when you have a baby. This means that your job is not protected, you can be fired or demoted or required to return to work when your baby is only weeks old.

But let’s assume you are covered by FMLA. What benefits will you receive? Your employer is not required to offer you any sort of pay while you are on leave. They are required to maintain your health coverage and hold your job for you. When you return you must be restored to an equivalent position with the same pay and benefits.

So what do American moms do? A lot of them cobble together some sort of leave by saving up vacation days, sick leave, or family leave before giving birth. Because even if you are eligible for FMLA, taking 12 weeks of unpaid leave, especially if both parents want to spend some time with their new baby, is not feasible for many families. Good employers may be willing to work with new parents, and offer more extensive benefit plans. And in some cases moms return to work when their babies are only weeks old, because they have no other real options.

It’s certainly unfortunate that American mothers do not have access to the same benefits that we enjoy here in Canada. Organizations such as Moms Rising are working to raise awareness and advocate for moms and babies. And some US states are now mandating paid leaves. I will discuss which states those are, and what sorts of schemes they offer, next week.

In the meantime, I think I’ll go sing O Canada and watch the beer commercial that passes for our pledge of allegiance.

Why I’m Observing Earth Hour

I’m participating in Earth Hour this evening. What is it? It’s a global event, in which participants turn off their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 pm local time. It started in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and became a worldwide event in 2008. I think the official video explains it better than I could ever hope to:

I sort of heard about Earth Hour last year, but didn’t participate myself. 8:30 is an inconvenient time for us, because we’re often reading stories, brushing teeth, and rushing to get the little ones to bed. It seemed like too much of a hassle, so I passed. I also reasoned that turning off my lights for one hour would hardly make a difference. Really, I just didn’t want to be bothered and so I made excuses to justify my choice.

I am not the only cynic, either. This year I’ve seen article after article about the futility of Earth Hour, how switching off your lights briefly makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. I’ve read about how standard paraffin candles are highly toxic and polluting. I’ve even heard arguments that people will participate in Earth Hour and then rest on their laurels, ignoring more positive actions they could take.

I don’t honestly believe that switching off my lights for an hour will reduce climate change. And the information about candles is good to know, I will seek out better alternatives. But I also don’t believe that these sorts of events don’t matter, or that they actually make the problem worse. I think that people who participate in Earth Hour are more likely to seek out other positive changes than stop recycling because they feel satisfied they’ve already done their bit. That’s how I’m approaching it myself, anyway.

Maybe Earth Hour is little more than a feel-good PR campaign. But does that make it bad or totally useless? Feel good PR campaigns can raise awareness, educate, and inspire. How did you first learn about recycling, or compact fluorescent lightbulbs? A lot of the information we get comes from feel-good PR campaigns. A lot of the information that journalists get comes from PR campaigns, too. What better way is there to circulate ideas and incite change?

I like the idea of Earth Hour because it represents people coming together in a grass-roots fashion, expressing their shared concerns and values. As a mom I also think special events like this can be great teaching tools for kids. But most of all I like the idea of unplugging. I would actually like to do it on a regular basis, but haven’t worked it out yet. Turn off the lights, the computers, the music, the noise, and just be. Sit in the flickering (beeswax) candle light and talk. Share. Take a step back.

One of the real problems we face is how plugged-in we are, how fast-paced we have allowed our lives to become. And it all fuels the fire of climate change. We need to go, do, move, move, move. We don’t have time to cook or grow food or knit a sweater. We need this car and that patio set and those boots. On and on it goes. It’s all bit crazy-making and overwhelming, but we (and I include myself here) have a hard time stepping back and evaluating what we’re doing and why.

So I will turn off the lights for an hour tonight. And then maybe we’ll try a whole evening, or a monthly event. Summer’s coming and the days are getting longer, leaving the lights off inside and heading outdoors may be just the ticket. Evenings in the back yard with the kids and the wading pool, or visiting our local playground. Unplugging, and stepping off the mad carousel of our daily lives. That’s what I’m going for, won’t you join me?

Brothers and Sisters

(Click on any of the photos in this post to see bigger versions.)

Way back when Jacob was less than a month old I heard some sage words of wisdom from a mom at La Leche League. She reminded me that only one of my children would remember the early days. Newborns have very basic needs, they pretty much just need to be fed, kept clean, and held. Preschoolers, on the other hand, have much more complex requirements.

I took the words of wisdom to heart. And in the early days it wasn’t so hard. Jacob has never been one to linger over a meal, and I have enough baby carriers to choke a moose, so keeping the little guy happy while also tending to my big kid’s needs was manageable. In fact, in his first few months Jacob would even lie down by himself for naps, giving Hannah and I an hour or two to ourselves most days. While Hannah seemed to miss the undivided attention, I felt that I was still able to meet her needs and then some.

But the thing about babies is that they grow. And grow and grow. You can’t expect things to remain static for long. As soon as you get a system figured out they go and change the rules, and you’re dealing with a whole new ballgame. I’ve certainly felt that lately. Jacob is crawling now (!!!), and while he’s not adept he can move himself a few feet with increasing ease. This is just far enough to grab stuff he shouldn’t have. Jacob is also old enough now that if you take something away from him, he gets angry and cries.

See? It’s a whole new ballgame.

Outside the Value Village

Jacob also refuses to be put down to nap. At all. I can sometimes get a couple of hours out of him in the evening to do a few things for myself, and of course there are trips in the car and whatnot, but otherwise he’s on me all the time. Or on the floor, crawling towards disaster. And I think Hannah’s feeling a touch jealous. Because when she tries to climb on my lap as I’m in the middle of eating my dinner she’s not exactly welcomed. I tell her how she needs to give me a moment to finish up tasks, even as I’m holding her brother on my hip. Umm…yeah, I can see why she would be upset.

The kiddos on the couchJacob is concerned

Realizing what’s going on, I’ve been making more of a concerted effort to give Hannah some one-on-one time. Jacob is usually sleeping on my back so it does limit things somewhat, but there are still plenty of options. I’m also doing a better job of stopping myself before I reprimand Hannah, particularly when the problem is really her brother’s making. It’s not fair that she bear the brunt of a cranky mother who didn’t sleep last night, especially when it was her little brother who kept me up.

I know I’m not the only mom of two (or more) struggling to meet everyone’s needs. I also know that Jon and I both have younger siblings, and we are well-adjusted adults who have fine relationships with our parents. But it’s still hard to know that I made a decision to go and have another baby, and my first baby is the one dealing with the consequences. Any more words of wisdom would be appreciated. :)

PS – I can’t figure out the formatting issues, so I’m just leaving it as-is. The perfect is the enemy of the good and all that jazz.

Icky, Sticky, Ew

My ickiness threshold has increased substantially since I had kids. Things that would have disgusted me to no end before my little angels arrived are now regular occurrences that don’t even cause me to blink. Motherhood is a trip, I tell you. So for those who are strong of stomach, read on, and maybe even recognize yourself in my examples.

1. Hannah put everything in her mouth for the first 3 years of her life. I kept expecting her to outgrow this, but she didn’t. I fished out paper, plastic, chalk, bugs, dirt, crayons, and bits of pre-chewed gum she found on the ground. Fishing around inside someone’s mouth for bits of chewed insect might have skeezed me out in a previous life, but not anymore.

2. I no longer fish things out of Hannah’s mouth. These days if she puts something in there she shouldn’t, or even just eats something that she dislikes, I allow her to spit said item into my bare hand. Or maybe I even demand that she SpitThatOutNOW! Sometimes there isn’t even a garbage handy and I end up walking around for a couple of minutes with a half-chewed store sample of cheese in my hand. Such fun!

3. My kid eats half a cookie, and picks the chocolate chips out of the remaining half before leaving it lying on the coffee table. I suppose I could just throw the cookie out and get myself a new one. But I don’t – I eat the kid’s leavings. I have no idea why, but for some reason my kid’s half-eaten food appeals to me, or at least doesn’t have the same ick factor that someone else’s would.

4. I changed a couple of poopy diapers when I babysat as a teenager. I could barely get through it, and told the war stories for weeks. My teenage friends empathized. I don’t need to tell another parent how big a part of my daily life poop has become, or how I’ve long since gotten over it.

5. I pre-chew food for my kids. When I’m giving Jacob a pear to gum I need to remove the skin first. I suppose I could peel it using an appropriate kitchen tool, but that just seems like too much work. So instead I will eat just a very small layer off the top to remove the skin. Or when Hannah was a toddler I would bite off small pieces of apple for her. Especially when I’m on the go I’m unlikely to properly prepare a snack. If anyone else tried to feed my kid food from their mouth I would freak out, but somehow it’s perfectly fine if I do it.

6. The drool, the spit-up, the throw-up. Everywhere, all the time. If there’s just a little bit of it I wipe it with my sock-covered foot and keep on moving. If I changed my clothes for every little bit of baby goop that landed on me I would have more wardrobe changes than Cher. And frankly, I’m doing too much laundry as it is.

7. I use my own saliva as a miracle cleaner. I distinctly remember my mother doing this, too. Hannah objects, but I gotta get that chocolate off her face before skating lessons somehow.

8. My kid double-dips chips. She licks spoons and then uses them to scoop yogurt out of the tub. She puts her whole head in the bowl of cookie batter. I don’t want to waste all that food for fear of my kid’s germs, which I can’t avoid anyway. If I’m cooking for someone else or having company I stand firm, or do the food prep when she’s not around. But in day-to-day life I make half-hearted objections and then let it slide.

9. At our house, kids are allowed to eat off the floor. Not something sticky or wet, obviously, but I’m not about to make another plate of cheese and crackers just because my 4-year-old dropped the first one. This is the same child who ate playground dirt and survived, I doubt there’s anything much worse on my living-room rug.

That’s all I can come up with for now, but I am sure there’s more. What about you? What disgusting things do you do on a daily basis without so much as a second thought? Or am I the only one? (Please tell me I’m not the only one.)

Westcoast Adventures

Jon has a good friend named Danny Sayson. They’ve worked together covering local sports for years. They work behind the scenes, running replays. Danny stands apart because of his fabulous hair, which he keeps looking its best by wearing his headset flipped back instead of in the standard over-the-top configuration. It may be that Jon is telling these stories because he is a little bit jealous, I don’t know. Either way he did procure some photographic evidence.

Danny wears his headset flipped back

Danny wears his headset flipped back

Danny also runs his own video production company, creating the most amazing wedding videos. In fact we attended his wedding 5 years ago, and I can verify first-hand that the video was quite something. I can also verify that Danny is a lucky man, his wife is beautiful. And since then they have welcomed their own little guy to the family.

Danny and his beautiful bride cut the cake

Danny and his beautiful bride cut the cake

A few years back Danny embarked on a labour of love and created his own TV series. It’s called Westcoast Adventures, and it’s all about fun and adventure here in BC. It features activities from shopping at the Richmond Night Market to sky-diving in Pitt Meadows. Danny poured a lot of time, energy, and money into the project. And now it looks like that work has finally paid off.

Westcoast Adventures has been picked up by several PBS stations, with a potential audience of 12.8 million (!!!). The stations are KCTS, KSPS, KWSU, and KTNW, so if you have access to any of those stations check out the broadcast schedule. The first episode airs tonight at 7:30 pm on KCTS. If that doesn’t work for you, the episodes will be available online following their broadcast on PBS.

I realize I sound like a commercial today. But there’s so much work that goes into a project like this, with no guarantee of success. Jon has worked in TV and video production since he was 16 and it’s rather mind-blowing to see the effort involved in creating something as basic as a TV commercial. It takes a lot of heart to create a whole TV series and then get it on the air, and I’m just thrilled for Danny that he’s done it. And of course I’m also glad that he’s showcasing this beautiful place that I call home. I’ll take any chance I can get to learn about fun things I can do right here in my own backyard.

(Plus, I hear that Jon has a credit for the help and advice he offered Danny, and I do love to see my husband’s name on air.) ;-)

I won’t be able to watch tonight, because I don’t have a TV these days. But I will be logging in following the airings. And of course I will be hoping that Westcoast Adventures enjoys a very successful run! :-)

Barbie on the Nature Table?

In honour of Spring I decided to set up a Waldorf-style nature table, with Hannah’s help of course. A nature table, or seasonal table, is a small surface decorated with natural objects to reflect the season. The idea is that you will have small toys or crafts, candles, and items collected on walks. You change your table for different holidays and festivals, as well as when the seasons change.

Setting up a nature table
Hannah sets up the table

The purpose (as I understand it) is to bring a bit of the outdoors inside, and to help bring the seasons alive for children. A nature table is meant to be played with, and the kids should be involved in choosing items and setting it up. It’s not a display space for Mom, designed to enhance the beauty of the room. Although it might do that, letting the kids enjoy themselves is more important than enforcing good taste and colour coordination.

Laying the playsilk on the nature table
Setting out the playsilk

Hannah picked up on the idea right away. She referred to it as a ‘spring scene’ – they have seasonal scenes set up in a fish tank in her daycare. She had all sorts of ideas, and we engaged in some heavy negotations to determine where it would be. We finally chose a spot we could agree on, and found some playsilks to use as tablecloths. I laid out some objects for her to use – a flower-shaped candle holder, a felted spring fairy, some wooden eggs, Hannah’s ‘treasures’ from a trip to the park with my mom. And then Hannah chose some items, too. A metal bowl, a pillow, a toy honeypot, and of course Barbie.

Decorating the nature table
The spring fairy needs a friend, and Barbie’s just the ticket

After all, who doesn’t love Barbie?

I’m pretty sure that mass-produced plastic toys are not meant to be part of a nature table. But I decided to butt out. The nature table is not about me. It is about Hannah, and in her mind Barbie can only improve any tableau, with her eternal smile and her flowing blond hair. This is one time for me to let Hannah’s self-expression reign. As she gets older we may be able to come to a better understanding as to what belongs on the nature table, but for now I will leave it in her capable hands.

Hannah playing with the nature table
Hannah playing with the ‘spring scene’

After several permutations Hannah did remove the Barbie doll. And I was secretly pleased. Although I guarantee you she will be back on there again as Hannah plays and re-arranges. Perhaps she will even be joined by the ever-loving Barbie styling head that Hannah purchased with her allowance. Or a My Little Pony. The non-Waldorf-approved toy options are rather plentiful here at Casa de Strocel.

Finished scene
The ‘finished’ product (for now)

You can find more photos of our recent adventures on my photostream. And please, let me know if you do anything with your kids to mark the changing seasons. I’m always up for good kid activities, as long as no felting is involved. ;-)

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